Last Friday, second period in room 213…
While going over the day’s objectives as students were filling out their weekly book charts, one of my more outspoken and opinionated seventh graders interrupted me and said, “You look really tired,” while his classmates all nervously nodded in agreement. This revelation was no surprise to me, as I have just now, at the end of our fourth week of school, finally felt that I am on top of things. This will probably not be the case for long, I wanted to take a minute to pause and reflect on why it seems like we are having the best start to a school year in a very long time.
For me the first few weeks of school are for two things – getting to know my students and setting up/practicing routines and responsibilities for learning.
Because I only have students for a semester, I try and get to know them as much as I can in a variety of ways from day one. This year, after reading Teach Like a Pirate , I asked students to create a symbol out of play-doh that represented them in some way or something from their summer. Then students had to come up one by one and introduce themselves, answer one or two questions from me, while I held their play-doh creation. I want to set the tone from the start that students will be speaking and listening to their peers on a regular basis and what it means to be an attentive audience. Students also complete reading interest surveys, a short writing sample about their summer and a fun summer highs and lows interview within the first three days of school. I then spend time after school entering their reading likes and dislikes, favorite books and other interesting information into a class profile in Evernote so I will have an easy to access source of information about my students’ reading lives at all times.
One of my favorite ways to get to know my students is with my version of Cris Tovani’s Conversation Calendar. Each day, students come into class and fill out their calendar, and tell me what’s going on in their life, give me a game recap from the night before, share weekend plans, or ask me a question. I then respond and they will read my comment the next day in class. The first week we will talk back and forth about how their classes are going, summer, and build a rapport. Once they are familiar with the routine, we will begin meaningful conversations about books authors and our reading lives.
After calendars are turned in for the day, it’s independent reading time. Students read independently for 15-20 minutes every day. Even though students all ready have daily reading time in their ELA classes, I feel it’s really important to give my reluctant readers even more time and exposure to texts. While students are reading, they also may be collecting words for their weekly word collector chart, meeting with me for a quick reading conference, looking at books in our library, checking out and/or returning books on a classroom computer designated for the Classroom Organizer, and/or recording finished books on their “Books I’ve Finished” chart. On Fridays I will give students stickers for their genre charts to indicate finished books for the week. As you are probably picturing, It is a very active reading time and a lot goes on at once. This year I have found that students have embraced the routine of reading when they arrive to class. They seem to have more reading stamina compared to last year’s group in September and I credit this to my ELA department at my school for their commitment to the importance of independent reading.
After independent reading, students fill out a chart that shows how many pages they read for the day and what page they left off on. I originally had a class list and called on students to tell me this information, but I felt that it took too much class time and really wanted to give students more ownership. So far so good. Students are noticing patterns and trying to increase their reading rate. We then have a quick turn and talk for the day – which may consist of reviewing what we did yesterday, what is happening in students’ current books or a fun question just to stimulate conversation. Deliberate turn and talk time in my room is a must – I want students interacting with their peers and talking about reading, every day. While it’s not the only time we talk about reading (we are doing this in some variation for the entire 42 minutes we are together every day) it is a reminder for me to give students a few minutes (3-5) to debrief and regroup before we move on to our main lesson and activity for the day.
One last thing worthy of noting is that I also have reinstated classroom jobs this year. A long time ago, when I used to teach 8th grade ELA, classroom jobs were a big deal in my room. Students had name badges, filled out applications and held each other accountable for doing their jobs correctly. I missed the positive classroom community that they helped foster, brought them back this year and have seen a great response. Students hold their current job for a quarter and I make sure that everyone has a job throughout the semester. Jobs like passing out papers, class librarian, doorman/woman, light operator, and errand runner make our class run smoothly and make things a little more fun for students.
I can’t believe how fast these four weeks have gone by and that we are already to our first midterm. Routines and rituals in the classroom really make a difference and set the stage of how the rest of the year is going to go. If these four weeks have been any indication, I’d say we are on track to learn a lot and have fun in the process!